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beauty, Guest Posts, Vulnerability, Women

Together We Run

March 7, 2016

By Liz Fischer Greenhill

I am cut from the fabric of my grandmother, wild and crazy, spirited and dangerous. Unpredictable women we are, the kinds of women they send to sanitariums. Women who fall apart. Women who must take pills to be good mothers, who must fold our pretty legs under our skirts rather than slip them into leotards for dancing. Women like my grandmother and me, we love to dance.

I grew up hearing the story of how my grandmother left my young mother in a burning car and ran away for help. I grew up hearing that she was irresponsible, didn’t cook, was never around, not a mother. How she would fill herself on samples from the grocery store but never buy anything, her long lacquered nails plucking morsel after morsel. She answered the front door wearing only her stockings and brassiere.

I thought she was glamorous.

I’d seen other grandmothers like mine. With puffed up curls, coffee-colored eyebrows more paint than hair, grey roots shining from under their hairlines like a fallen hem. Beautiful women, grown larger with years, having lost their waistlines. That’s what she said, that she’d lost her waistline. Don’t let it happen to you, she warned, before I ever had a waistline.

I remember childhood crying fits at night in bed. My mother coming in, how she perched on the edge of my bed, her hand rubbing nervous circles on my back. My body shaking in heaves I couldn’t stop. Worry in her voice, sometimes we just need to cry for no reason.

 I think I had reasons. A fire burned inside me, hot coals in a clench of skin and muscle. It was nothing I could figure out how to say.

Gwendolyn.

My grandmother.

In my dream we are schoolgirls together, laughing in the courtyard, smoking cigarettes in the woods, skinny-dipping in the river. We roll our skirts up and our stockings down. We trim each other’s hair to pageboys, smack bright red lips to each other checking for an even kiss mark. We lie in the dirt and dry grass under a hot southern sky and sleep, straw hats on our faces, legs overlapping.

My grandmother was, as her children say, so aloof and excitable, so wacky and unreliable, perhaps she was unable to be a friend. I don’t want to think of her that way. I want to think of us together as teenagers. Growing to be young women together, confiding in each other our doubts and sorrows and wild panic, and helping each other not abandon our children. I want us to be friends who wet-nurse each other’s babies so that some days each of us can go wander a river, or stumble home from a party, or howl privately to the sky. We could have allowed each other to feel childless for long hours of the day, to feel pretty again and youthful, to remember desire.

I would have been at the births of my uncles, my mother, my aunt, I would have held her hand and looked deep into the scattered brown of her darkening eyes and said, Yes, you can leave. Yes, you can go when the baby comes, I’ll take care of it for you, you can go. And because I said it, because I gave her the open door, she would have stayed.

And when my child was young and I awoke in the cold horror of a nightmare—a stampede of animals turned my son to dust while I applied lipstick in a mirrorshe would have been there to pet my hair and dry my cheeks with the sides of her hands and laugh, Girl, you know you wish it and at the same time you don’t. It’s alright, we all do. You love him to death, that’s all it means.

If I’d had her there to say it again when I was often so worried I might leave the baby on the counter of the fabric store and step out into the city, carefree and light, strolling the streets, peering in windows and wondering at the world, the baby more forgotten than a button that popped off my coat. She would have brushed my fears away, easy as lint.

Alone in my bedroom, a small girl, shuffling a halo into the green carpet, my hands clamped over my ears, my eyes pressed shut. A frenzied panic in my chest. It started soft like a dozen or more radio stations clicking on, a low murmur. A jumble of sounds and overlapping voices getting louder, reporters relaying news of bombs and wars and death tolls, numbers rising. I couldn’t make it stop. Just had to wait it out, five minutes, ten minutes, twenty. Shut out the light and as much of the sounds as I could, clenched. Around and around the room.

Who could I tell? My mother couldn’t understand. Already, her frequent looks of concern slanting through me. The nerves reigned in her grip. All the yelling and slammed doors. Rug burn on my shins from scrambling up the carpeted stairs too fast, just to be alone in my room.

In picture albums, my mother is a brunette Shirley Temple with scabby knees and a gleaming toothpaste smile. Then, an adolescent as lovely as a swan, thin-necked, sweetly smiling, her tiny poodle skirt like an over-turned martini glass. In high school she is pretty in that perfect girl-next-door kind of way, short in stature, feminine, a brown bouffant, just a touch of eyeliner, lip gloss, a good girl. We would’ve run in different crowds if we were classmates. She, in sync with the cheerleaders, in uniform, belonging; me with the artists, in our tattered vintage clothes and unkempt hair, dreaming of a way out.

As a teenager I did not look in the mirror. I only did it if I had a purpose, but never for the sake of admiration. I was told I was pretty like my grandmother, but I did not allow the compliment to stand. I knocked it down and never looked long enough to form my own opinion—afraid it wasn’t true. Afraid it was.

I’ve seen pictures of my grandmother in a sequin leotard, in a line of women, elbows locked like paper dolls, dark-lips, arched smiles, one leg bent, one leg lifted, all in sync. My legs are shaped like hers.

If my grandmother and I had been young together we would have been like sisters—best friends, accomplices to each other’s silly crimes. We would have grown up together and then stayed together, moving to the same block, a strip of fence between our houses. We’d have made our husbands tear the fence down so there was nothing between us. We would have smoked cigarettes over black coffee and a fallen cherry pie and bitched about the neighbors’ triumphant cakes and their children’s spotless rompers, the women we knew unlike us—we, who prefer to read Sylvia Plath or jam a fistful of wildflowers into an old bottle, rather than slip rubber gloves into a sink of bubbles or mop the floor. We don’t bleach anything clean. We don’t iron any man’s pants. Our bathrooms are draped with our stockings just rinsed. We let our children run wild and cook one monstrous dinner for all of us to last as long as it can, so that in the evenings we can slouch in an armchair with a book in hand, or lay on the rug, legs swaying to a record spinning on the stereo. All summer we eat wild strawberries, licking the red stains from our fingerprints, and shoo away mosquitos from our bare legs. Winter evenings we bundle into matching scarves and walk hand-in-hand well past the first stamp of the moon, until we are surrounded by nothing but blackness and the smallest pricks of light that remind us somehow that we are not lost.

And when we lose ourselves, we help each other stay safe. We take each other’s children and mother them as best we can until the other is well enough to come stand in the house again.

And when she surfaces, we bend a fence around the other, to protect the fragile cracks while healing. Keep the men out, the children away, bring each other carefully back out to the starlight.

My grandmother, my love, I’m talking to you.

I came to you when my son was just a baby, do you remember? We saw you in the hospital and I bounced him on your bed and I told you all about him. I showed you each of his dimples and patted his fat hand to yours. I told you of his first words and his squinty smiles and the way his hand grasped for me in his sleep.

We came all that way to say goodbye, did you know?

In your apartment we found your jewelry, all the bracelets I mailed you from New York City street vendors, plastic turquoise and mother-of-pearl.  We gave away your aqua spiked heels, the ones you wore all the time with over-sized sweaters and  leggings, showing off your shapely legs. I wish I had them now.  I would have liked to have borrowed them, now that I’m a woman.

My grandmother, you have not known me as a woman. True, I was a mother when you died, but I was girlish, I was fighting forward with my eyes closed, I had not yet seen my own body in the mirror, had not stepped into the caste of my widened skin. The woman I would become hung around me like a ghost then.

I was using the word mother for myself, tentatively, and I would not call myself woman. A girl. What is in a girl that is lost in a woman?

Seated at her vanity, my mother, tucked in a towel, leaning close-in to the mirror, blow-drying her hair, spritzing hairspray, brushing her face with powder, lining her lips a sharp pink and coloring them in, dabbing at the quilted pillow of eye-shadow, a swipe of rouge, not too much, a touch of Shalimar to the wrist. Weddings, bar mitzvahs, services, dinners, funerals, over and over, layer upon layer. The same ritual since her dates and proms and cheerleading games and sorority parties. Through the crack in the door I watched her make herself into someone I did not want to be.

What does it take to be a woman?

What does it take from you?

My grandmother and I are the kinds of women who retain a certain girlishness as we age, coy and flirty, we thrive on admiration, we stumble through our schedules, cannot maintain routines.  Always changing, we are like kaleidoscopic colors.

Did she see it in me, I wonder, that same patterning, that wild impulse that leapt a generation and settled into me, linking us in a slip stitch. Granddaughter. Grandmother.

When you were my age now, grandmother, you were just out of the hospital and fragile still. Your long fingers pulled stems from tall black buckets at your job at the flower shop. I can see your eyes squint, lips frown, while you arrange a bouquet in a vase. Your painted nails pinch off the rose thorns. A ruffle of petals. The plucking of leaves. This one for a funeral. This one for a thank you gift. This one for a girl in the hospital.

What song plays in your mind while you hum? Do you think about the doctors, the white bed, the pills and machines? Do you remember how you were lost to your children?

I don’t want to follow you there.

This is a story that changes in my hands.

In the house, when my son comes to me, I wrap my arms around him. His head smells like wet sand and eiderdown. His fingers tap upon the stacked bones of my neck. That is the only sound in the room. His hands are beautiful. His feet are free. When our embrace is over I’ll cook him breakfast and we’ll walk to the market, the bookstore, and then we’ll come home.

Grandmother, I remember the smell of you, rose water and powder, the perfume that drifted onto my shoulders. The black curly mess of your hair. Liquid brown eyes. Dark. Rimmed in black pencil. The southern twang that whistled through your orange smeared lips. Your hands, browned by the sun, thick-knuckled like mine. Too many gestures. Fingers quick as birds. A jumbled of creases in the palm. We called you Nana.

You live in me now more than before.

Nana. In my dreams you are whole.

I see us as girls together, scrappy and mischievous in dirt-covered dresses. Playing toy soldiers and tin flutes in the dusty yard. Southern girls, girls who know to look down in public and look up in private, we were those girls.

Turn your back to me so that I can button your dress, slip the slim pearly shells into the tight little mouths that dot a line along your spine. Let me help you put yourself together, gather yourself. Turn around, let’s see your lips, give them one nice press and there you are.

Grandmother, my love.

Give me your hand.

Let us go back to the car—that car that burns eternal behind my mother’s round eyes—there is smoke, the heat is pulsing off the asphalt, the door handle is right there gleaming. Open it. Get the child. Get her out. Take her hand and I have your hand and together we run.

 

Liz_Fischer_Greenhill-IMG_6874

Liz Fischer Greenhill is a visual artist, a poet, and a nonfiction writer. She is also an acupuncturist who practices hands-on healthcare in Portland, Oregon.

Liz’s work has been published in The Rumpus, Gertrude Press, Nailed Magazine, The Collagist, Perceptions, Four and Twenty, Oregon East, The Dream Closet, and the poetry anthology Step Lightly. Her work is forthcoming in The Untold Gaze, a book of writing paired with the paintings of Stephen O’Donnell. Her 16 mm animated short, “The Loveseat,” showed in LGBTQ film festivals across the US and in Canada.  Currently an MFA candidate at Eastern Oregon University in Creative Nonfiction with Lidia Yuknavitch, Liz is working on her first book.

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Join Jen Pastiloff in Tuscany Sep 17-24, 2016. There are 5 spaces left. This will be her only international retreat in 2016 and is her favorite retreat of the year. Email barbara@jenniferpastiloff.com asap. More info here. Must email first to sign up.

 

The 12 Day Detox is here. Sign up now for the next cleanse on March 14, 2016. Space is limited. This detox comes at just the perfect time. Reprogram your body and mind as we move into the holiday season. This is your time of rejuvenation and renewal.This is not a juice fast, or a detox based on deprivation. Click photo to book.

The 12 Day Detox is here. Sign up now for the next cleanse on March 14, 2016. Space is limited. This detox comes at just the perfect time. Reprogram your body and mind as we move into the holiday season. This is your time of rejuvenation and renewal.This is not a juice fast, or a detox based on deprivation. Click photo to book.

 

Join founder Jen Pastiloff for a weekend retreat at Kripalu Center in Western Massachusetts Feb 19-21, 2016. Get ready to connect to your joy, manifest the life of your dreams, and tell the truth about who you are. This program is an excavation of the self, a deep and fun journey into questions such as: If I wasn’t afraid, what would I do? Who would I be if no one told me who I was? Jennifer Pastiloff, creator of Manifestation Yoga and author of the forthcoming Girl Power: You Are Enough, invites you beyond your comfort zone to explore what it means to be creative, human, and free—through writing, asana, and maybe a dance party or two! Jennifer’s focus is less on yoga postures and more on diving into life in all its unpredictable, messy beauty. Note Bring a journal, an open heart, and a sense of humor. Click the photo to sign up.

Join founder Jen Pastiloff for a special Mother’s Day weekend retreat in Ojai Calif, May 6th, 7th, & 8th, 2016.
Get ready to connect to your joy, manifest the life of your dreams, and tell the truth about who you are. This program is an excavation of the self, a deep and fun journey into questions such as: If I wasn’t afraid, what would I do? Who would I be if no one told me who I was?
Jennifer Pastiloff, creator of Manifestation Yoga and author of the forthcoming Girl Power: You Are Enough, invites you beyond your comfort zone to explore what it means to be creative, human, and free—through writing, asana, and maybe a dance party or two! Jennifer’s focus is less on yoga postures and more on diving into life in all its unpredictable, messy beauty.
Note Bring a journal, an open heart, and a sense of humor. Click the photo to sign up.

 

courage, Girl Power: You Are Enough, Guest Posts, Letter to myself, Women

Dear Self,

December 23, 2015

By Kimberly Valzania

Dear self
Dear 6 year old self
tell them what that 19 year old neighbor boy
did to you in the woods
how he kissed you on your little mouth and made
he made you pull down your pants
and he made you
and it only happened once
but once is all it takes
help them understand
why
why you wet your bed until you were 12
tell them why
why you couldn’t sleep
why you couldn’t just go to sleep
tell them you were scared
you were scared when you were 12 and
your period, it came
for the first time, tell them
how
how it wasn’t at all brilliant and
how you didn’t want to be a woman
but now you were
now you had no choice. Continue Reading…

Girl Power: You Are Enough, Guest Posts, Women

A Letter to My Former Self

December 9, 2015

By Ashley Doonan

Dear former-self,

You are okay. Your bones are softer than you think. Leave the molding to the sculptors.

It’s 7:28 on a Thursday night. I just left my apartment in my pajamas to buy a candle and m&ms from Rite Aid. I’m sitting in the living room of my apartment for the first time since I moved in, which was last August.

This morning, I drank two caramel-swirl lattes in rapid succession for breakfast while calling countless doctors in hope of scheduling an appointment at a time that both fits into my schedule and is in-network for my insurance.

It started snowing as I limped to class on my crutches. Everything felt blissful, in the most ironic sort of way. As I navigated through the decrepit building in which all of my classes are located, I was faced with countless acts of kindness: strangers opening doors, offers to carry my belongings up to my classroom, a warm reassurance from my professor that I could leave the seminar at any point if I needed to receive a phone call from the doctor. Even my meek, ill-reasoned contributions to our seminar discussion were praised. I make a conscious effort to appreciate it all: congeniality and genuine human understanding is grossly underrated, especially in academia.

The remainder of the day was a blur: more snow, more slipping, more gripping. But now, as I’m nestled on the floor with my body pillow and my candle, I’m content. My eyes are heavy. These sentences are probably more or less repetitive fragments. But that’s okay, because I’m content. Continue Reading…

Family, Fear, Guest Posts, Home, Women

Not Now, Not Yet: An Essay on Aging and Eccentricities

December 7, 2015

By Terah Van Dusen 

I want to cry. No, I am crying. I want to scream, “Listen here, family—no more going crazy. Not now, not yet. No more cancer. No more tranquilizers for widows. No more meth for the good time guys.”

When I was a little girl, they brushed my hair until it was cotton soft. They bathed me and powdered my skin with white dust out of a yellow vintage disk. When I napped, I would wake and eat one of those orange crèmesicle pops from the freezer. I was pampered and lifted up as a child by my two great aunts who served as mothers—then released back into the wild where I lived with my father.

It was the ease of a single father home. Harmonious. There was plenty of solitude and we owned two pet rabbits named Snow White and Rhada.  We hauled our water up in buckets from a spring at the end of our unpaved street. There were cassette tapes and I had the boom box all to myself. There were long days of lounging and reading and dancing alone, my father working outside. There were quiet father-daughter dinners lit by kerosene lamps. There was dreaming of my far-off long-lost mother and sometimes crying. There was the youthful yet wise knowledge that that was normal (crying). There was the thinking that everything was going to be OK—it was what I’d been told, time and time again. There was being told I could become anything I wanted to be. There was being lied to. There were underlying addictions. There were dreams…and as I grew older there were dreams that were dying hard and fast. It wasn’t pretty.

I am almost thirty now and I am angry. Everything is not OK. I am torn—to lie or not lie to children? Luckily, there are few around, so I need not be worried that one might ask me “Can I really be anything I want to be?” or “But it’s all going to be okay in the end, right?” Hopefully I won’t ever have to say: “No, chile, actually shit gets worse. Much worse. Much, much worse. The mind gets worn like an old shoe. One day you find that you’re just trying to hold it all together. You will never, ever be an astronaut. Or even a manager of anything. You might not even be chosen for marriage. You may become obese or addicted to internet porn, likely both.”

My great aunts husbands both died early on and do you know where that leaves a woman whose greatest strength and ability was to nurture? It leaves her wandering aimlessly with a tray of refreshments with nobody to offer them to. It leaves her facing her own self, which she is not accustomed to doing. It leaves her tripping over somebody else’s clean, folded laundry that’s been sitting there for years. It leaves her in a large, old home with old man drawers and neckties and an old man’s favorite snacks gone beyond stale in the cabinet, a recliner still situated in the corner, a used faux-leather neck massager, a stack of old man Time magazines, bi-focals, a framed photo of an ex-wife, who died of cancer. I am telling you a sad story about old people who used to be very, very beautiful. Beauty queens n’ shit. Car models. Upper management gone crazy or ill. The fate of all of us. My job: to write it down. My job: to not lie to children.

I am the great niece. I tip toe in the shadows. I notice all the shrines and the way my one aunt still talks as if my uncle is sitting right there with us. Take away the men and the children and you get an old woman who used to be a damn good woman and wife but is now so shamed by her belongings, tea cups and sweaters and what not, that she sanctions off entire parts of the house with big heavy curtains and clothes pins. She covers tables full of piles of mail and paperwork with plastic picnic table cloths and when the lightbulbs in the chandeliers go out, she doesn’t replace them. But I get it. All of it. All of these “things” made perfect sense for a family, for a mother, for an aunt. But not for a widow. To say my aunt has a hard time letting it go would be putting it lightly—the mansion is her shrine to her past. But I love her and respect her maybe more than I do the other women. Because she is kind. She is the kind one. She is the crazy one, but she is the kind one.

On my drive down the Oregon coast for a weekend Mother’s day visit with my great aunts, I get to thinking I hope she didn’t sanction off my room. Not that it has any of my personal things in it—although it does have a few: a piggy bank, a Barbie coloring book, a flower crown from when I was the flower girl in a wedding. My dad has a bedroom down the hall. My other aunt occupies the loft bedroom. My deceased great uncle Ray still has a room too, adorned with elk décor and plaid.

My room is all white lace curtains, teddy bears, rose patterned bedspreads, paper dolls and ballerina slippers. It reeks of that innocent girl that I maybe possibly once was—if I stretch way back into my memory. Someday I will inherit the wooden four-post bed and the vintage stationary desk. A small framed photo of me is displayed on the nightstand—I am in the third grade, wearing my favorite Disney sweatshirt, I am smiling and hopeful. I haven’t been beaten down yet. (Though I have been beaten down a little.)

I scour underneath the bed for a box. I’m looking for a slip of paper on which I wrote a long time ago in kid-scratch “I want to be a Writer or a Dancer when I grow up.” Alarmingly, I cannot find the paper—but instead of getting bent out of shape I calmly tell myself that paper or no paper, I still want to be a writer. And maybe someday I will be.

I pull the large, blank-page artist’s sketch pad I write from out of my suitcase, kick off my pink slippers, and crawl into one of my many childhood beds. I intend to write about pointing fingers—at each other and at ourselves. I intend to question: why did it get so hard after the men died? Shouldn’t it have gotten easier? Less housekeeping, dick sucking?

I thought it would be a good idea: a reunion with my women kin. But I’ve got my grandmother who is the eldest and though she has really got her head on straight, she’s quick to judge, she’s somewhat of a sloppy drunk, and she tells me the same stories from my childhood over and over and over again. And whenever someone else is talking she’ll whisper to herself “Oh get on with it,” while smiling a fake smile and bouncing her leg impatiently, waiting for her turn to talk. “Be nice!!” I finally snap back at her, “I am talking now.” Then I regret it—cause… surely nobody would talk to their grandmother this way.

We’ve got our younger aunt who has fought cancer twice now and might be facing a third diagnosis in an altogether new part of her body. She’s beautiful. She smokes. I thought she would’ve quit by now. A quiet confession: I smoke too. But surely I’ll quit. Surely I’ll quit before I get cancer.

We’ve got my great aunt, the one I’ve told you about, who is so isolated in this old house and so fucking eccentric that she might genuinely be going mad now—for the first time I witness her throwing objects at the wall in anger or, in the middle of a task, throwing a stack of papers up in the air and just walking away.

She can’t. They can’t. They can’t go crazy. They can’t get cancer. Everything will be OK in the end is the biggest crock of bull I think I’ve ever heard. I want to scream NOT FAIR. NOT YET. NOT AT ALL. PULL YOURSELVES TOGETHER!
These are the women who taught me how to floss my teeth, how to say “So very nice to meet your acquaintance.” These are the women who told me when I got boobs, “There are a lot of wolves out there,” with a head nod and a knowing eye and I knew they were talking about men. And boy were they right. This made it easier to meet a man, think “Wolf” and just walk away. These are the women. These are the women. You can’t. You can’t take them yet. I’m not yet thirty. I’m still quitting smoking.

As the ladies carry on in fragmented, tortured conversation, I sit on the floor and cry. I try to stop but I can’t. I try to be strong like I will have to when they’re not only crazy and drunk but bedridden too. I am the child. They are the mother. We don’t want to go crazy. We don’t want to lose each other. We don’t want to be unappreciated, and then died on. We don’t want to be cheated on, and then died on. But we don’t want to be victims, either. We don’t know what we want exactly, but we know what we don’t want. And yet with every year we face the inevitable—the house clutter, the mind fucks, the cancer. I feel it too. I get it.

The younger aunt hugs me before bedtime, she holds onto my shoulders and whispers with great conviction “I know, growing up sucks.” I feel a hard sob rising up from my core. Suppressing it sends a violent tremor from my feet to my head. “I don’t cry at home,” I tell my aunt reassuringly, “I must be PMSing or something.”

I wonder where my strength ran off to, where all of our strength is hiding. Maybe it just…ran out. Maybe it died. Or maybe it’s hiding behind all the life stuff—the tea cups, the sweaters hung over the backs of chairs, the lace curtains and vintage bureaus, the magazines, the pinstriped button downs of old, dead uncles, the bottle caps, bottled waters, dusty, the driftwood, vintage aprons, and “art supplies.” Maybe it’s in that one closet. Or in the other one. Maybe we put it “somewhere extra special.” It’s bound to show up somewhere. We ask ourselves, “When was the last time you saw it? And where?”  We laugh and drink and poke fun at each other slash snap at each other. They won’t last forever…but at thirty I feel like I will. How can I be this far gone this early on? Do you just feel crazy when you’re around crazy people? Are we just artists? Is this what it is to be eccentric?

No more going crazy.

Not now, not yet.

Too soon.

again

Terah Van Dusen is a writer and aspiring memoirist. She is the author of two self-published books: Poems by a Horny Small-Town Gal and Love, Blues, Balance: A Collection of Poetry. She has been published in two anthologies by Cool Waters Media in Chico, California. Terah lives in Eugene, Oregon and writes the blog Bohemian Dreams at terahvandusen.wordpress.com.

 

Ring in New Years 2016 with Jen Pastiloff at her annual Ojai retreat. It's magic! It sells out quickly so book early. No yoga experience required. Just be a human being. With a sense of humor. Email barbara@jenniferpastiloff.com with questions or click photo to book. NO yoga experience needed. Just be a human being.

Ring in New Years 2016 with Jen Pastiloff at her annual Ojai retreat. It’s magic! It sells out quickly so book early. No yoga experience required. Just be a human being. With a sense of humor. Email barbara@jenniferpastiloff.com with questions or click photo to book. NO yoga experience needed. Just be a human being.

 

 

Join Jen for a weekend retreat at Kripalu Center in Western Massachusetts Feb 19-21, 2016. Get ready to connect to your joy, manifest the life of your dreams, and tell the truth about who you are. This program is an excavation of the self, a deep and fun journey into questions such as: If I wasn’t afraid, what would I do? Who would I be if no one told me who I was? Jennifer Pastiloff, creator of Manifestation Yoga and author of the forthcoming Girl Power: You Are Enough, invites you beyond your comfort zone to explore what it means to be creative, human, and free—through writing, asana, and maybe a dance party or two! Jennifer’s focus is less on yoga postures and more on diving into life in all its unpredictable, messy beauty. Note Bring a journal, an open heart, and a sense of humor. Click the photo to sign up.

Join Jen for a weekend retreat at Kripalu Center in Western Massachusetts Feb 19-21, 2016.
Get ready to connect to your joy, manifest the life of your dreams, and tell the truth about who you are. This program is an excavation of the self, a deep and fun journey into questions such as: If I wasn’t afraid, what would I do? Who would I be if no one told me who I was?
Jennifer Pastiloff, creator of Manifestation Yoga and author of the forthcoming Girl Power: You Are Enough, invites you beyond your comfort zone to explore what it means to be creative, human, and free—through writing, asana, and maybe a dance party or two! Jennifer’s focus is less on yoga postures and more on diving into life in all its unpredictable, messy beauty.
Note Bring a journal, an open heart, and a sense of humor. Click the photo to sign up.

The 12 Day Detox is here. Sign up now for the next cleanse on November 30th. Space is limited. This detox comes at just the perfect time. Reprogram your body and mind as we move into the holiday season. This is your time of rejuvenation and renewal.This is not a juice fast, or a detox based on deprivation.

The 12 Day Detox is here. Sign up now for the next cleanse on November 30th. Space is limited. This detox comes at just the perfect time. Reprogram your body and mind as we move into the holiday season. This is your time of rejuvenation and renewal.This is not a juice fast, or a detox based on deprivation.

beauty, Gratitude, Guest Posts, Self Image, Self Love, Women

THE REAL REASON I THINK I’M UGLY TODAY

December 2, 2015

By Jennifer Ann Butler

I looked in the mirror this evening and the first face I made at myself was one of disgust. There I was, in PJ pants, a baseball tee, messy hair in a bun, no makeup, ungroomed eyebrows, and dirty glasses. But I didn’t walk away. I also didn’t correct the reaction. I didn’t say, “NO, Jen. Be NICE to yourself. GAH.” And force myself to say something kind. Because that’s fake. And, frankly, that’s almost worse than the initial face of disgust. At least that reaction was authentic. Even if it wasn’t healthy or kind, it was authentic. It stemmed from somewhere in my psyche and it deserves light. It deserves attention and affection and expression just as the rest of my emotions and thoughts and opinions about myself do.

See, we’re all onto something with there being body image issues and us needing to love ourselves more, but I feel as though we’re going about it in the wrong way. Oftentimes, we’re combatting the issues rather than offering love and tenderness. By faking it until we make it, we are ignoring the emotions that are so desperately vying for our attention. From my [many] hours of research on self-love and self-acceptance, the main approach to increasing self-confidence seems to be through avoidance. Ignore the bad emotion; concentrate on a good one. Who decided which emotions were good and which were bad? What about making an effort to understand the roots of the emotions instead? What does that look like?

What I’ve learned through asking myself these questions is that we are more than who we are in this very moment. I am more than Jen Butler at 9:54PM on a Sunday night. I am also the Jen Butler from exactly four months ago, when my relationship surprisingly and suddenly crumbled, spending the entire night switching between inhaling the scent of my then-boyfriend’s Hawaiin shirt and reminding myself that yes, I could breathe, despite what my anxiety attack was telling me. I am the Jen Butler who went to the MRI and PET Scan by myself in February of 2014 when the doctors thought my melanoma had returned and metastasized in my brain. I didn’t tell anyone because I didn’t want anyone to think I was overreacting. I am the Jen Butler from December 29th, 2011 who stood and watched as my horse was injected with a potent drug that ceased his heartbeat because I didn’t want him to go through the pains of surgeries and be confined to a stall and fed through a tube. I am the Jen Butler who swallowed a bottle full of prescription pills in March of 2011 in an effort to end my life because of how much of a burden I believed my presence to be. I am the 24-year-old Jen who listened intently as my then-boyfriend drunkenly told me of the stripper’s breasts he’d fondled that evening, afraid that if I showed the pain I felt that I would scare him away. I am the 21-year-old Jen who patiently listened to my then-boss’s wife call me a laundry list full of excuses when I explained that my daily retail sales were lower than normal due to having rolled my Trailblazer four times (or five times?) across a few lanes of I-75 the night prior and having a resulting concussion. I didn’t argue. I didn’t stand up for myself. I listened. I even agreed. I remained in my comfortable discomfort of voiceless victimhood. Continue Reading…

courage, Fear, feminism, Guest Posts, Women

On Being an Unnatural Woman

November 20, 2015

By Leah Wyman

I’m walking in the the rainforest, debating whether or not to put in my iPod headphones to ease my jitters.

For a country with “Pura Vida” as its motto, Costa Rica can be an anxiety-provoking place for somebody who’s a borderline agoraphobic.  But here I am, covered in mud, my clothes sopping with sweat, swatting at bugs and moss, feeling all kinds of outdoor unknowns prickly all over me. I’m exhausted, I’m lost in the wilderness, and I’m grappling with the surreal situation I find myself in.

I had followed the map closely, I thought, but got turned around as to whether to climb up the creek bank or down the creek bank to get to the waterfall I was seeking. To most seasoned outdoorsmen (or just anyone who gets the concept of how rivers work), this wouldn’t be a mental struggle.

But hell if I knew—and downstream seemed conceptually like less of a labor. No guide, no common sense–just the great outdoors and me, scaling rocks and branches, sloshing my boots into deep pools, petrified of snakes, and talking to myself through this anxious situation.

You’re doing real good Leah, reeeeeeal good. You got this. I sputtered, spooked by weird animal and bug sounds and the rustle of leaves. I threaded the headphone cord in and out of my fingers. Maybe a little Katy Perry telling me I was a ‘Firework’ would spur me on.

Nature has always known its relationship with me: respectfully guarded but also utterly hysterical. It’s moved past dubious and now it feels like fact: the environment and its inhabitants are tickled by me. Mother Earth needs amusement like the rest of us, and I feel like the laughingstock of the terrestrial community.

As with most suburban brats, anything remotely wild in my past happened in zoos.

With my class at the primate exhibit at Brookfield Zoo I was standing completely unawares when I suddenly felt a nasty, mealy, putrid paste being flung repeatedly at my face and body. One of the so-called majesties we were admiring with awe had just thrown its shit at me. Gorilla feces all over me. In my hair, in my eye, all over my new sweater from the Gap, which I’d gotten for Christmas, which I really liked.

I was crying and humiliated while my teacher tried to wipe soapy water through nooks and crannies of cable knit. Mrs. Scott walked me to the zoo store and picked out a nerdy t-shirt with a baby otter that exclaimed “I Otter Be at the Brookfield Zoo!” for me to wear the rest of the day. (God bless you, Mrs. Scott). Continue Reading…

Family, Gratitude, Guest Posts, Women, writing

The Summer Mink

November 16, 2015

By Jennifer Rieger

While most of my school friends spent their summers attending various camps and enrichment programs, I spent my vacation in the little mountain town of Cresson, Pennsylvania. God’s little acre, my grandmother called it, but to me, it was a town of freedom and ease. This comforted me as a child; I liked being in a place where people stopped me in the market to tell me how much I resembled my Aunt Diana, or told funny stories of my parents growing up. In Suburbia, USA, I was a nobody.

My father was a Postal Inspector, and the nature of his career took us all over the country—Wisconsin, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, Illinois, Philadelphia—but Cresson was always the constant. The town is approximately seventy-five miles east of Pittsburgh, and if you blink driving through, you’re sure to miss it. It’s known for its scenic landscape and crystal spring water, as well as its creamy custard and front porch gossip. Years prior to my own existence, wealthy railroaders and even Andrew Carnegie would vacation in the decadent Queen Anne-style Mountain House mansions to escape the sweltering city summers. Those years are long gone, and the thriving little mountain town of railroaders and coalminers has become a bit depleted, and many struggle to get by.

While both sets of my grandparents lived in Cresson, it was an unspoken understanding that my sister and I would spend our summers with my mother’s parents. I didn’t question decisions like these—I knew better. There was an interesting complexity to my grandmother that the observant conversationalist could discern in a matter of minutes. She loved fresh-squeezed orange juice, clothing made with quality fabrics, porcelain dolls, and her granddaughters. As for the town itself, she possessed a love-hate relationship. An army bride at sixteen, my grandfather whisked her away from Texas and brought her to Cresson, to his family, his life. She willingly followed and gave him a daughter, but never let him forget the sacrifice she made leaving her family behind, even if they were desperately destitute.

I suppose that’s why she needed the mink coat.

Minnie Hudson had a mink, and wore it when there was even the slightest chill in the air—yes, even in the summer.  Each Sunday in church, Grandma would stare down that mink like a gentle, skilled hunter stalking prey. She never bad-mouthed Minnie for wearing it, never openly judged her for possessing such an obvious extravagance in a blue-collar town. I watched her, the all-consuming envy gleaming in her sparkling green eyes. At the end of each service, Grandma would make her way to Minnie, feigning a casual conversation. If Minnie noticed the number of times Grandma’s pained, arthritic hands reached out to nonchalantly caress the coat, she never let on. I noticed though. The way her hand would linger a little longer, the way she would sigh when they parted, the way she would look at the sky as we walked home—I noticed everything. And I wished I could buy her that coat. Her crooked hand grabbed my little one. Let’s go into Altoona and get your ears pierced baby doll, what do you say? I know your mother said no, but tiny diamonds will look so pretty. I nodded, smiled, and kicked the rocks of the gravel alley all the way home. Grandma kicked some too. Continue Reading…

Books, Guest Posts, storytelling, Women, writing

Keeping the Faith through NaNoWriMo and Beyond

November 4, 2015

By Suzy Vitello

This is the month that many writers take the plunge and re-prioritize their lives to take part in National Novel Writing Month. NaNoWriMo, in other words. Probably if you’re reading this article, you’re on a break from the marathon. Or you’re simply not doing it. It’s a huge commitment, this pledge to write 50k words in a month.

Huge.

Five years ago, I embarked on a failed NaNoWriMo adventure – and I say failed, because I didn’t come up with the whole 50, but, November, 2010 was the year I crystallized my obsession with the Empress Elizabeth of Austria, and the effort eventually produced two books. The first one was published by Diversion Books in September of last year.

The level of joy when your book find its way to the hands of readers is only matched by validation  you get when a New York publisher says, “Yes. We will invest in you. We believe in this book.”

But it was short-lived.

Over last winter, I continued the story (the book was always meant to be a series), and wrote the second Empress Chronicles book. I had it professionally edited, rewrote it, and sent it along to my agent in late spring. We both felt pretty confident that Diversion would put the sequel out, too.

But they passed.

Though claiming The Keepsake was “a delight from start to finish,” they felt they needed to focus on books with more robust sales numbers.

This is a polite way of saying: your first book tanked, and we’re moving on.

The level of self-doubt when your book gets rejected is only matched by frustration when a New York publisher says, “Show me the value.”

Because, value is subjective. Value is an abstraction. Value, my friends, should be tied to something intrinsic, but at the end of the day, value is tied to numbers. And consumers. And a system as random as a Las Vegas slot machine.

The hardest thing, for an artist, is to maintain belief in creation in the face of rejection.  It’s not just about tenacity. It’s not just about revision. It’s more than that.

It’s finding that audacious place inside you and pulling her out. Talking to her with tough love. Asking her the hard question: “What is standing in the way of success?” And then, “What do you really want?”

When I answered those questions, here’s what I came up with:

My tendency to value myself only if fancier people value me.

And:

Connection. All I have to give is my love of language, story and the dream that plays out on the page. 

And here’s where the miracle comes in. When you live inside a decision to find connection, you do.

I decided to put The Keepsake out myself, and I found an extremely talented and passionate street team to help me. Continue Reading…

Fear, Guest Posts, imagination, Women, writing

On Writing and Rejection

October 25, 2015

By Julianne Palumbo

When I was very young, I used to write poems on 3 by 5 index cards and paste them onto the blank pages of a large scrapbook. Then, I’d crayon pictures next to them, half-circle trees outlined in Electric Lime green with dots of Scarlet red apples scattered below. My coloring was never worthy of the 64-count Crayola box that I relished, the untouched points lining up in a progression of vibrancy. Perhaps my poetry was not much better. It looked small surrounded by all that white space. At seven, I hadn’t yet mastered the art of figurative language. A tree was typically only a tree. Once in a while it was its roots and its branches, but always I wanted it to be as vivacious as the colors in that box.

My parents typically dispensed the appropriate amount of praise when I showed them my poems, always willing to read my new creations and to pass them around to collect the obligatory nods and smiles of relatives. It was enough to encourage me to keep writing.

But, I remember one poem I wrote while passing a few hours at my grandmother’s house. I was seven, and visiting her home always left me feeling like I never could really sink into the chairs she covered with dishtowels before our visit. I would roam around her quiet raised ranch, inhaling the scent of cherry tobacco and mothballs, and scouring the shelves of black and white family photos searching for a likeness of my own face. The wood floors creaked achingly under my quiet steps as I peeked into the lifeless rooms upstairs searching for the perfect place to write.

The poem I wrote that day was about best friends, a boy and a girl, perhaps a friend I wished I had. In the poem, the friends played together all day, and then, when nighttime came, the boy stayed over the girl’s house. I remember showing it to my grandmother who whispered to my mom, pointing to my small paper with her curled and spotted finger. My grandmother handed my poem back to me. “Put it away,” she said.

I remember the embarrassed cry that welled up inside when she informed me that little boys don’t stay with little girls and that I shouldn’t show the poem to anyone else. I remember ripping up the poem and being so embarrassed that I had written it. I snuck it into the trash bin under her sink, wishing it would just decompose among the milk cartons and coffee grinds so it would be forgotten.

I’m not sure why I remember this so vividly. Perhaps it was my first experience with writer’s rejection.

But, the pull to keep writing remained strong. I wrote through high school, contributing to my school newspaper and entering poetry contests, but mostly I wrote for myself. My writing was usually well received as youthful writing often is. Adults are happy when a teen expresses herself in writing. No one really pays attention to the words she says or to the stirrings that hide behind them.

I didn’t experience rejection again until my valedictorian address was spread across the chopping block by a Sister of Mercy at the all girls’ Catholic school I attended. Sister Marie said something about my speech not being religious enough before she took her merciless red marker to my manifesto. I had earned the title of Valedictorian but apparently not the right to say what I wanted at the podium. It was my first attempt at the art of compromise, actually daring to remind her that I was writing the speech and that it was important that I believed in what I was going to say. It was perhaps my first chance to be heard by my peers, really listened to, and I wanted them to know me through my words.

After high school and college, I practiced law for many years. Law, with all its terseness and arid sentences parceled out into tiny billable minutes, parched my writer’s voice. I wrote legal and business articles profusely, but my creative side nearly wilted under the weight of all those legalisms. During those tedious days I longed to return to the imaginative and colorful. I allowed myself to think back on my earlier years and to remember myself as a prolific creative writer.

It was motherhood and all of the overwhelming feelings that come with birthing and raising another human being that brought my pen back to the page. The joys and struggles cried to be vented someplace. It strikes me now that an introvert like me suddenly became so comfortable sharing myself with you and countless readers I’ve never met. If you knew me in person, you would know very little about what I need and what makes me happy. If you read my writing, you will know so much more.

We write to be read, to be understood, and to understand. We write because when someone else reads us and processes her own pain, we have given a gift. You are either a writer or you’re not. You either understand the need to put down words or you don’t. You will either read someone’s writing and desperately need to know them, or you won’t.

I found that old poetry scrapbook the other day. It had been tucked into a cardboard box in my parent’s cellar then moved to my basement when they cleaned out theirs. It surprised me to find that the cover was nothing more than an industrial speckled tan with a thin functional bronze frame thoughtlessly surrounding the word “Scrapbook.”

In truth, I hadn’t even filled half of the pages with my index card poems. The fancy gold cover, the gilded tipped pages, and the large satin ribbon of my memory had been imagined. I had remembered the book teeming with poetry that documented a young girl’s life with the mastery of a memoirist. But, the poems that had seemed so large back then were in fact nothing more than a few words written squarely on pre-penciled lines. They contained barely even a simile, and many of them were loaded with treacherous rhyme.

Inside the scrapbook was my old valedictorian address, written in bubbly letters, blue pen on a stack of oversized index cards, tea-stained by age. It’s funny how those two relics of my writing past found refuge together for those thirty dry years. It’s as if they knew someday I’d return to them.

As I opened the scrapbook and turned its thick manila pages, a small creak in the binding reminded me of that old feeling of putting myself out there and having it torn. I remembered thinking that day that I hadn’t meant any harm by my words.

When I decided to leave my law partnership and take up writing again, I also decided that I would embrace the rejection that would inevitably follow an attempt at a writing career. I vowed I wouldn’t let fear of rejection silence me. Instead, I would drink in each word of criticism like it was the last drop of water in my inspirational well.

We face rejection in so many facets of our lives. Why then is it so difficult to stomach when it comes in the name of improving something important to us?

I submitted my young adult novel manuscripts to professional editors and poured over their redlines like they were treasure maps to the spot where my future best seller was buried. I refused to allow myself to feel the sting of their criticism. Instead, I read between their cryptic lines, sifting out any tidbit or morsel that would help me to reach the better writer trapped deep inside of me. I told myself that the editors were not offering criticism to make me feel bad but because they understood the human need to communicate well. They were helping me to reach my goal, and I wouldn’t allow my pride or my sensitivity to silence my own voice.

There are so many good writers out there. And for each of those, there are that many more who are even better. I read those writers like I am prospecting their gold, sifting their gravel through my strainer. Turning and shaking it until I find that tiny glittering bit that will raise my own writing, inspire me to reach deeper, to try harder. With each critique or rejection letter, I strive to glean something, anything that will move me forward even a step.

Then I come across a piece of writing that makes me stop short, hold my breath, and wish I could have put those very words down in that very same way. Pangs of writer envy, I guess, but not in a way that shuts me down, in a way that makes me root for the writer to continue to spread her gift to the world. I realize that I had to write those simple poems about tree branches that dropped apples in order to write the better ones about trees branches that blossomed.

I turn the page in my old poetry scrapbook and lift the tired satin ribbon that marks the page. There, in the center, is a poem about me.  I read it and I know myself.

I am a writer.

Julianne Palumbo’s poems, short stories and essays have been published in Literary Mama, Ibettson Street Press, YARN, The MacGuffin, The Listening Eye, Kindred Magazine, Poetry East, Mamalode, Coffee + Crumbs, and others. She is the author of Into Your Light (Flutter Press, 2013), and Announcing the Thaw (Finishing Line Press, 2014), poetry chapbooks about raising teenagers. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize for my YA poem, “Stuffing Bears” and received a Letter of Merit from the SCBWI in the 2014 Magazine Merit Awards. She is also the Editor of Mothers Always Write, an online literary magazine for mothers by mother writers.

 

Ring in New Years 2016 with Jen Pastiloff at her annual Ojai retreat. It's magic! It sells out quickly so book early. No yoga experience required. Just be a human being. With a sense of humor. Email barbara@jenniferpastiloff.com with questions or click photo to book. NO yoga experience needed. Just be a human being.

Ring in New Years 2016 with Jen Pastiloff at her annual Ojai retreat. It’s magic! It sells out quickly so book early. No yoga experience required. Just be a human being. With a sense of humor. Email barbara@jenniferpastiloff.com with questions or click photo to book. NO yoga experience needed. Just be a human being.

 

 

Join Jen for a weekend retreat at Kripalu Center in Western Massachusetts Feb 19-21, 2016. Get ready to connect to your joy, manifest the life of your dreams, and tell the truth about who you are. This program is an excavation of the self, a deep and fun journey into questions such as: If I wasn’t afraid, what would I do? Who would I be if no one told me who I was? Jennifer Pastiloff, creator of Manifestation Yoga and author of the forthcoming Girl Power: You Are Enough, invites you beyond your comfort zone to explore what it means to be creative, human, and free—through writing, asana, and maybe a dance party or two! Jennifer’s focus is less on yoga postures and more on diving into life in all its unpredictable, messy beauty. Note Bring a journal, an open heart, and a sense of humor. Click the photo to sign up.

Join Jen for a weekend retreat at Kripalu Center in Western Massachusetts Feb 19-21, 2016.
Get ready to connect to your joy, manifest the life of your dreams, and tell the truth about who you are. This program is an excavation of the self, a deep and fun journey into questions such as: If I wasn’t afraid, what would I do? Who would I be if no one told me who I was?
Jennifer Pastiloff, creator of Manifestation Yoga and author of the forthcoming Girl Power: You Are Enough, invites you beyond your comfort zone to explore what it means to be creative, human, and free—through writing, asana, and maybe a dance party or two! Jennifer’s focus is less on yoga postures and more on diving into life in all its unpredictable, messy beauty.
Note Bring a journal, an open heart, and a sense of humor. Click the photo to sign up.

Family, Fear, Guest Posts, healing, infertility, The Body, Women

This Is Infertility

October 12, 2015

By Hillary Strong

“There they are!”  Betty, the technician, proclaims.

I blink. I stare at my husband. We both give her tight smiles. She’s wondering why I’m not crying. Not just crying, but ugly crying, where snot pours down my face, and I need an entire box of Kleenex to mop up the emotional refuse. She’s wondering why I’m not breaking out the horns and streamers, dancing naked while strewing confetti all over the exam room, watching it fall like snow over the stirrups, the tubes of Vaseline and boxes of Latex gloves, eventually drifting down to the bleach infused tiled floor.

She’s moving the wand around and gesturing towards the screen that to me looks like two Rorschach blots encased in static. My husband is squinting at the monitor. “What do you see?” I want to ask him. “A unicorn? A spider? Two caterpillars?

“You must be excited” Betty says, as she slides out the ultrasound wand that had been shoved into me with robotic efficiency. “Scoot your butt down, legs open, no down further, knees apart”, Betty had choreographed the weird dance of our weekly appointment minutes earlier. “What no flowers? I thought. “No dinner?” Just wham, bam, intravaginal ultrasound. Betty takes off her plastic gloves, drops them into the trash, and scribbles on my chart. “I will print out some photos for you guys to keep,” and with a click of a button, my uterus and its contents appear in neat, glossy, squares curling unto themselves like the receipt from a cash register.

“I’ll let you get dressed,” she says, and the door clicks shut.  Only then does my husband place his hand in mine, our fingers chilled from the air conditioning, and we stare at the pictures, poring over them like they are people we should know but can’t recognize.  It’s like she placed an enormous chocolate cake in front of us, and we told ourselves we could take a tiny little taste of the icing.  It feels decadent and a bit taboo and as our eyes pore over embryonic images of our children, we savor the deliciousness, for we know it could be as fleeting as sugar on the tongue.

I’m staring at a signed poster of Bruce Springsteen. It’s Born in the U.S.A., Bruce. White t-shirt, blue jeaned, red capped, Bruce.  Fighting the good fight. “I’m clothed now, so at least I’m not disgracing the flag”, I say aloud, and consider it a victory when my husband smiles and shakes his head slightly. I stare at the plastic vagina on the desk in front of me, and resist the urge to open and shut it, make it talk, like a puppet. Months ago, it might have been an elephant in the room, something that would have made my husband and I snicker like prepubescents in health class, or if playing the bourgeois, something that would have been examined like a coffee table book. Now, after months of being indoctrinated with anatomy lessons we hadn’t exactly volunteered for, I regard it like a paperweight or desk lamp. Continue Reading…

Friendship, Guest Posts, healing, Inspiration, Women

Importance of Female Friendship

October 8, 2015

By Nicole Baxter

I never understood the importance of having female friends until eight months ago.   Before then I didn’t think it was that important.   In fact, for years I felt that having female friends just set you up for nothing but drama and heartache.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t say this just to say it; I say it out of experience.  When I was younger, I had trusted my best friend with a traumatic event only to have her betray that trust and ultimately cause a lot of pain.   Looking back even to this day, I cannot decide if it was that betrayal that caused me more pain or the actual event.   It was then I made the decision to never allow myself to get close to another girl and hence began the wall I erected.   I could be friends with females but to trust them was entirely a different thing.   I didn’t realize then when I made that promise to myself, how the importance of having close female friendship really is.

If you were to tell me a year ago that I would once again trust and allow another female friend into my heart, that I would reveal things to her that have occurred but never told anyone (let alone things I would not even admit to myself) I would have told you that you were crazy.  I am not even sure how it started other than it happened at a time that I needed it the most.   You know the saying: people come into your life for a reason.

At first it was only little things here and there but soon I began to trust her more and more.  All of a sudden I wanted to tell her everything even though it was hard and still today hard for me.   The more I shared the more I began to see what I had been missing out on the last 20 years.  I had closed myself off to others and now with her help, guidance and love I have begun to open my heart up and everyday it is opened a little more.   She has encouraged me to go after the dreams I put off, picks me up when I get down on myself (which is a lot lately), always telling me to be to myself, and that I am powerful and enough. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, motherhood, Women

On Wishing Things Were Different

August 14, 2015

By Jessica Zucker

I.

Mourning is hard for her. She’s loathe to sink into the anguish of that time and what it means about the woman who raised her.

Mother.

II.

Rather than feel the grief, she has spent the better part of her life gripping onto hope—an emotional contortionist—thinking that if only she were different than maybe her mother would treat her better, love her constantly, see her. Be there. These are the details that coarse through her unconscious mind day in, day out.

Anxiety.
Loneliness.
Shame.

After repeated emotional mishaps and arduous disappointments, history collected in her psyche, hardening her once soft edges. The antithesis of a wellspring of support, her mother’s behaviors left an indelible mark on her daughter, cementing her impression of what relationships are made up of, and what they are not.

III.

As a child she felt alone. She was alone. She turned her longing for connection into mock group therapy sessions for her stuffed animals, lined at the foot of her bed. “So, elephant”, she inquired, “what do you think about this story? How do you think the characters felt at the end of the book?” This type of playfulness exhibited her imaginative inner life and gave birth to an intimacy and connectedness she yearned for in actuality. Otherwise, in the context of the real people in her home, she felt stranded. Her house was missing key elements that she desperately needed to thrive: attunement, curiosity, reflection, unfettered fun. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Life, Women

What She Learned

April 24, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Kim Valzania

When she was 5 she learned that when a boy hits you on the playground what it really means is that he likes you.  Richard belted her in the arm at the top of the slide.  She didn’t cry and she didn’t tell the teacher.  But boy did it hurt, and it left a bruise.  Her little friend whispered, “he likes you” but when she told her daddy he said that if it ever happened again, she should make a tight fist and hit Richard back, only harder.  “Right in the nose is always an option.”

When she was 6 she learned that even a daddy is afraid sometimes. She discovered just how fast her daddy could run.  A lying, little, sneak of a neighbor falsely declared that her brother had fallen into a well, up in the woods.   Her daddy, her terrified hero of a daddy, could have qualified for the Olympics that day.  And he almost had a heart attack.

When she was 7 she knew for sure that she wanted to look exactly like Barbie when she grew up.  She practiced by walking around on her tip toes.  She wanted to have the tiniest waist, and a closet full of clothes.  She wanted to live in a dream house, play at the beach, and drive a red corvette. Today she is living proof that those dreams can and do come true.

When she was 8 she learned that if she cut her hair super short like a boy, everyone would start thinking she was a boy and everyone in the neighborhood (even her own family!) would start treating her like a boy and she herself would start acting like a boy.  She even got into a dirt-pile scuffle that involved a bit of rock throwing with above-mentioned lying, sneak of a neighbor.  It was fun for a while.

When she was 9 she learned how to hurt her little sister’s feelings.  All she had to do was tell her she smelled like a cow, refuse to play with her, mess with her animal collection, and slam the bedroom door in her face.  She was wild, mean, and a little bit violent.  Do make note that she later apologized for said bad behavior.  Sometimes being a boy wasn’t easy.

When she was 10 she became suspicious that her daddy would ask her to go ice fishing with him just so he could legally put out more tip-ups and bring home more fish.  When she realized this was indeed true, as in he didn’t deny it true, she was okay with it.  Sort of. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Manifestation Workshops, Women

Women Are Hurting.

March 31, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Jane Eaton Hamilton.

Jen Pastiloff & The Hunt For Beauty.

There’s something I can’t get off my mind; it’s been nagging.

A couple months ago, Jen Pastiloff came to town.  She’s the wunderkind behind the online home for great essays, Manifest Station, and a yoga/writing workshop phenom.  I first came to know Jen through her site when she published my essay about Paris, ‘Things That Didn’t Happen,’ which now appears in the Caitlin Press anthology This Place a Stranger, about women traveling solo.

All this is a long-winded introduction to the fact that Jen asked me to attend her yoga workshop here in Vancouver, BC, when she came to town earlier this year at Semperviva Yoga, and, reluctantly, I went.  (Jen knew getting me out of my house was like pulling teeth, but she kept at me.)  Despite a background in dance, I’ve never been a yoga enthusiast, and I’m also an atheist, and morbidly shy, and the whole spiritual thing makes me roll my eyes.  I slid down the wall at the back of the room, gamely played along to the limits of my creaky old body, and kept my eyes and ears open.

And, folks, a bunch of things happened.

She calls the workshop, after all, “On Being Human.”

But the transformative thing, the thing that hasn’t gone away, was this:

Women are hurting. Continue Reading…